HARPSWELL, Maine — The New York City woman who was killed in the first fatal shark attack in Maine was the former president of a well-known handbag company who had a second home on Bailey Island and was remembered Tuesday as a “charming woman.”

Julie Dimperio Holowach is seen in this undated
photograph. [Courtesy of Anthony Mack]

Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City was swimming in Mackerel Cove off Bailey Island in Harpswell about 3:26 p.m. Monday when she was attacked, according to Patrick Keliher, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. 

Kayakers brought her ashore near White Sails Lane, where she died. Keliher said a tooth fragment was recovered and was confirmed to belong to a great white shark.

Holowach was the longtime president of the North America division of Kipling, an accessories company that specializes in handbags. She and her husband co-owned a home near the cove on Elden Point Road, according to 2019 town assessment records, and lived in Maine between four and five months of the year, according to Keliher. 

State Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, said she knew Holowach as they were members of a book group that meets regularly at the Orr’s Island Library. She remembered conversations with Holowach about the differences between New York City and Maine and said she was struck by her “friendliness and openness ” and her love for Maine.

“She was a very charming woman, lovely,” McCreight said.

A relative at Holowach’s Bailey Island home on Tuesday declined comment. She served on the board of Sea Bags, a Maine company known for tote bags. In a statement, CEO Don Oakes said “her passion for the ocean, the state of Maine and causes we believe in made her an invaluable supporter and friend.”

A sign at Land’s End at the tip of Bailey Island tells swimmers the beach is closed on July 28. The sign was put up by people at the nearby Lands’ End gift shop because of the recent shark attack at Mackerel Cove, just down the road. [Troy R. Bennett | BDN]

Holowach, who was originally from the Morris Park neighborhood in the Bronx and used her maiden name professionally, was “smart and savvy and had a great fashion sensibility” and grew Kipling’s brand from $20 million to $100 million in North America, said Karen Murray, the owner of a retail shop on Madison Avenue who worked with Holowach for over two decades.

“She had a wonderful life,” Murray said. “She had everything she needed financially and she had her health and her family.”

It marks the first fatal shark attack in Maine, though sharks have been sighted off the coast before. In 2010, a shark attacked a Down East diver in Broad Cove near Eastport. The man used his underwater camera to fight it off. The Gulf of Maine is at the northern end of the great white shark’s range, with recent sightings near a popular Kennebunkport beach in 2019, Stratton Island off Old Orchard Beach in 2018 and Wells in 2017.

In response to Holowach’s death, swimming is being restricted to shallow water off Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg and Reid State Park in Georgetown, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, which manages state parks, said Tuesday. 

Swimming will only be allowed in waist-deep water in the area. Both parks are just up the coast from where Holowach was attacked. Marine officials swept the waters between Casco Bay and Sheepscot Bay since the attack and didn’t find any sharks.

Holowach was wearing a dark wetsuit that “might have been confused for a seal,” said Keliher, who stressed the rarity of the event. 

“It’s not something we ever would have considered in Maine waters,” he said.

BDN writers Christopher Burns, Caitlin Andrews and Nick Schroeder contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...